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Does Automation Risk Management Improve Machine Design Outcomes

More companies are launching ambitious automation projects in record numbers. According to a Deloitte survey, nearly half of executive leaders report their companies are rolling out automation projects. These new automation projects can range from single robotic cells to fully-integrated smart factories built with Industry 4.0 technologies.

If you’re involved in planning and designing your firm’s automation projects, you also understand that every project carries with it a measure of risk. The Project Management Institute (PMI) notes, “automation projects require careful planning, tests and execution. Otherwise, by the time you realize you’ve made a mistake, it could be too late to prevent a business impact.”

Because it’s easy to underestimate automation project risks, at Summit, we begin looking at areas of trouble early in the process to eliminate surprises further down the road. For instance, we employ debugging earlier to identify projects at risk of failing, which reduces total automation costs. PMI says the “pressure is on project managers to build and execute a precise and comprehensive risk management plan.” And since no two automation solutions are the same, forget about one-size-fits-all solutions.

Automation machines are built from a “toolbox” of rapidly changing computer, software, and electronics technology. “Unlike other disciplines, automation knowledge becomes outdated every few years as the underlying technology advances,” says the International Society of Automation (ISA).

Complex automation systems can consist of thousands of components from dozens of suppliers. Your project team is responsible for integrating these components to ensure they all work together. But what are the risks that could prevent you from completing your automation project on time and within budget? Does automation risk management make a difference?

4 Risk Factors That Could Jeopardize Your Automation Project

To help you better understand the risk factors that could threaten your project’s success, we’ve summarized the top four automation project risk factors, published initially by Control Engineering:

Technology risk factors

Technology risks occur when you use new equipment, use products under 18 months in the market, or use products under development. To eliminate this risk, your project managers must ensure your team is trained on any new technologies

Engineering risk factors

Engineering risks occur with new system architecture, incomplete engineering requirements, leadership shortcomings, or failing to follow industry standards. To overcome these risks, track project performances and avoid operations chokepoints.

Communication risk factors

Communication risks occur within your management team, clients, design team and your project team peers. Reduce communications risk by creating monthly reports, regular reviews and meetings with item data/project information.

Planning risk factors

Planning risks occur when your project manager has little to no experience planning automation projects. To overcome these risks, ensure your project managers closely track project performances against the project budget. Also, have them maintain an effective risk control strategy by conducting risk assessments and validation.

Automation Risk Management

While it’s good to be aware of the four factors that could jeopardize your automation project, you also need to know the steps you can take to mitigate risk. Below are several suggested from ISA:

  • Apply robust project management discipline. A detailed project execution plan, schedule, and quality plan are essential for effective execution. 
  • Leverage technologies and processes to minimize the impact of late delivery of design inputs. e.g., auto-generating documentation based on the I/O database can quickly create and update critical deliverables.
  • Incorporate a vigorous quality assurance program to mitigate the subjective nature of automation requirements.
  • Use flexible system architectures — like configurable I/O modules — to minimize the impact of late changes on testing and documentation.
  • Appoint an interface manager to reduce the risk resulting from multiple dependencies on other stakeholders. This position manages the flow of information to equipment suppliers.
  • Practice disciplined testing and commissioning procedures done by qualified resources. Shortcuts can lead to operational problems, out-of-control cost increases, and reduced commissioning time.

Navigating the unexpected while implementing a new automation project is a constant challenge. To ensure success, it pays to work with an experienced integrator to guide you through the journey.

With Automation Risk Management in Mind, Summit’s Design and Build Process is Different

Our design and build process is different. At Summit, we emphasize automation risk management and debugging through proof of concepts. We partner with your team from beginning to end, using agile methods that focus on iterative, early design, collaboration, and transparent project management communications.

These principles ensure your objectives and final product are aligned.

  1. Emphasize risk analysis early and throughout
  2. Enhance communications between all parties
  3. Ensure your machine exceeds your expectations
  4. Develop long-term partnerships on multiple projects

Concerned with automation risk management? Learn how our expert integrators can design and build your next automated machine. Let’s talk.